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Verenium Commissioning Cellulosic Ethanol Demo-Scale Plant; Targeting Cost of $1.34/Gallon

Verenium expects a production cost of $1.34/gallon (outlined in red) from its first-generation technology, with further reductions to come. Click to enlarge.

Verenium Corporation has begun the commissioning phase at its demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility in Jennings, Louisiana. The plant is rated to produce 1.4 million gallons per year using specialty enzymes and the company’s proprietary technology to convert non-food biomass to ethanol.

Verenium says that it is tracking to its goal of beginning construction in the middle of next year on a 30 million-gallon-per-year commercial plant. In a briefing with analysts and investors, Verenium said that it was expecting a production cost of $1.34/gallon for its first-generation technology.

Verenium is striving to consolidate the steps in its current process (top) to be closer to the simpler corn ethanol process (bottom). Click to enlarge.

Verenium was formed in 2007 by the merger of Diversa Corporation and Celunol Corp. (Earlier post.) Diversa brought a broad array of enzymes derived from bio-diverse environments as well as patented DirectEvolution technologies. The key element of Celunol’s technology was genetically engineered Escherichia coli bacteria that can ferment both C6 (hexose) and C5 (pentose) sugars present in cellulosic biomass.

Professor Lonnie Ingram at the University of Florida, from which Celunol licensed its technology, modified the E. coli—which could use both 5- and 6-carbon sugars, but produced very little ethanol, with the ethanol-producing capabilities of Zymomonas mobilis. Z. mobilis is a good ethanol producer that is highly alcohol-resistant, but is also very sensitive to its environment, is not very hardy, and can mostly use only glucose.

Rather than engineer this organism [Z. mobilis] by adding pathways to use different sugars...rather than engineer that strain to use one pentose or galactose or a dozen other sugars we wanted it to use, we said we’ll just take the part that’s involved in ethanol production, and transplant it into E. coli. And this is our generic approach. And after doing that, we had 95% of the theoretical yield of ethanol.

We went ahead and deleted all the other pathways [succinic acid, lactic acid, formate, acetate, CO2 and hydrogen] so that the only pathway our organisms have to grow under anaerobic conditions is to make ethanol. If they grow, they must make ethanol. If they grow faster, they must make ethanol faster. If they grow to higher densities, they must make more ethanol.

—Prof. Lonnie Ingram

The resulting company has integrated, end-to-end capabilities in pre-treatment, novel enzyme development, fermentation, engineering, and project development, supporting Verenium’s basic strategy of build, own and operate. It is targeting the production of ethanol from a wide array of cellulosic feedstocks, including dedicated energy crops, sugarcane bagasse, agricultural waste, and wood products.

The company also will engage in selective licensing opportunities. Verenium’s process technology has been licensed by Tokyo-based Marubeni Corp. and Tsukishima Kikai Co., Ltd. and has been incorporated into BioEthanol Japan’s 1.4 million liter-per-year cellulosic ethanol plant in Osaka, Japan—the world’s first commercial-scale plant to produce cellulosic ethanol from wood construction waste.



I wonder whether the bacteriae themselves are usefull for something (animal fodder ?) If huge amounts of ethanol are produced, also huge amounts of bacteriae will be produced, it would be nice if the could be used efficiently, increasing the overall conversion of cellulosic biomass to usefull stuff.


I assume demo-scale means one step beyond R&D. I wonder how many years until full production? Non-food biomass to ethanol? Now why didn't Washington think of that before the subsidized farmers (and still do) with millions of dollars to produce corn ethanol.


By energy content, $1.34 per gallon of ethanol is equivalent to $2 per gallon gasoline (low octane).

Patrick should use the highest octane gasoline for price comparisons. The octane of Ethanol would allow higher compression ratios (or boost pressure) than even super unleaded.


Right. You can offset a lot of the lower energy density with higher-compression engines due to that higher octane rating. But I think that ethanol has some starting issues in colder weather that will have to be addressed with some type of fuel additive.


They forgetting that $1.34 on production side not mean $1.34 on the pump.
The gasoline on the production side also cost around $2 and the profit from oil company that another $2.5.
You can probably expect the same profit margin on bio-fuels. So no brake for the drivers. The only way to get out from that cycle is to have super efficient cars.
That will cut the demand and the prices for all fuels will be lower.

We have to stop thinking Hummer, and start thinking Smart or bicycle. .

hybrid fan

$1.34 production cost should be compared to the rack rate for gasoline at the refinery: currently at $3.27. Add .70 for taxes and distribution and full up retail cost at the corner store cost should be 2.04 vs 3.97. Even on a BTU basis this ethanol would have a big price advantage. Even if they tax it like gasoline.

Healthy Breaze

Butanol...pout. Sniff. Sniff. Cellulosic Butanol...I wonder if their approach would be good for butanol, too. I don't know of any bugs that create just butanol and nothing else in that reaction. Does anyone else?

Healthy Breaze

Butanol...pout. Sniff. Sniff. Cellulosic Butanol...I wonder if their approach would be good for butanol, too. I don't know of any bugs that create just butanol and nothing else in that reaction. Does anyone else?


To Healthy Breeze Re: Cellulosic Butanol via Microbes:



In an ideal world there'd already be a pilot plant announced, at the least.


OT: to moderators.

Have you covered Hyperion Power Generation yet? It is essetially a large scale nuke battery, but downsized nuke facility able to power 20K homes in the size of a "hot tub"


Invention, patents, technology comes out of Los Alamos and Venture compnay Altira has invested with exepected first roll out 2013.


A recent study on the "Net energy of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass"
reported 60 GJ/ha/y or 540% more renewable than nonrenewable energy consumed. This corresponds to 1.67 kWh/m2/y.

The average annual solar radiation in the corresponding midcontinental U.S. is about 4.5 kWh/m2/day
( for horizontal flat plate)
or 1640 kWh/m2/y.

Hence the solar energy to biofuel conversion efficiency averaged over one year was just 0.1%, which is a hundred times lower than the solar energy to electricity efficiency of concentrating solar thermal or photovoltaic power plants that don’t need arable land, fertilizer and irrigation.

In 2005, total worldwide energy consumption was 500 EJ
or 1.4•10e14 kWh/y. To cover this with cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass at the reported yield of 1.67 kWh/m2/y would require roughly 100 mio km2.

This corresponds to nearly all land on earth
(149 mio km2:,
most of which is not suitable to grow switchgrass...

@ Emossom,

How dare you use facts, basic math and logic ;-).

We won't get anywhere near that wall. We would be lucky to displace 15% of the fuel used by cars and SUVs. Solar-electric is indeed a vastly preferable means of powering our transportation fleet. Biofuels are just a bridge while we amortize the existing transportation fleet and fuel delivery infrastruture. Cellulosic Butanol is just a more optimal temporary substitute. Hopefully the efficiency and yields will go up over time.

Healthy Breaze

that was me


But we could cover our entire energy consumption with solar power plants (concentrating thermal and photovoltaic) on only a fraction of the available desert areas, without competing for food production and cutting down rain forests:


In addition these concentrating thermal solar powerplants have a coproduction of fresh water (if you use seawater as feed). Since the powerplants would be built in deserts, the freshwater production can be used for additional biomass production or other uses.



How do we make plastics and jet fuel with electricity alone?

You can't compare efficiency of different products. Different products have different uses, some of which are non-competitive. By your argument we should give up farming and find a way to solar power people's stomachs, because making food is just to inefficient. Agriculture waste alone could replace 15% of oil usage, that energy that is at present thrown away.


Ben: "By your argument we should give up farming and find a way to solar power people's stomachs, because making food is just to inefficient."

Actually, you do it the other way around: first, find a way to hook a solar cell to someone's stomach, and then give up on agriculture to the degree the market accepts the solution.

"Agriculture waste alone could replace 15% of oil usage, that energy that is at present thrown away."

Maybe it should be thrown away? This waste is essentially CO2 extracted from the atmosphere. Package it up and throw it into a deep hole. Repeat as necessary.

richard schumacher

"How do we make plastics and jet fuel with electricity alone?"
For one method see
They highlight nuclear as the power source because they can use the thermal energy, but in principle one could do it the hard way: use electricity from your favorite clean source to condense CO2 from the air, electrolyze it into CO + O2, electrolyze H2O into H2 + O2, then combine the CO and H2 using well-known processes to make any hydrocarbons you want.

"Maybe it should be thrown away? This waste is essentially CO2 extracted from the atmosphere. Package it up and throw it into a deep hole. Repeat as necessary."
True, but it tends to ferment and escape as methane. You'd need a really deep hole.


Using fertile land to produce fuel (with great inefficiencies and multiple pollution) for our inefficient gas guzzlers may be just as unwise as more oil wars.

Using mostly unused desert land to produce clean electricity for our homes, factories, industries, commercial and public buildings, our transportation vehicles and machines etc would negate future oil wars and reduce multiple pollution. That should be our goal.

To transition from fossil to agro-fuels to keep our gas guzzlers going is not the best (or even a good) solution. To produce essential chemicals from wastes is something else and should be further developed.

ICE machines (an fossil fuel power plants) has had their days and should be phased out as quickly as possible. Recent incremental improvements is just too little too late to perpetuate the species.

Of course, the transition to electrified vehicles will take time and go through various phases such as Hybrids, PHEVs and BEVs. Within 20 years, on board ESSUs will be much lighter, last longer, be much cheaper and have enough capacity to power a vehicle for at least 500 Km between quick charges.

A few ICE gas guzzlers vehicles will be preserved in museums for our grand children to see.


Forget again!

richard schumacher

So, returning to the topic: a way of making E10 without using food crops would be a help.
Does the European Union have rules
Against genetically modified fuels?


Obviously the public would be better swayed to bio-fuels if the cost is lower. But to me the driving reason for biofuels is to get the US off foreign oil and achieve energy independence. If it turns out biofuels cost more, perhaps congress should add to the existing gas tax a biofuel 'balancing' tax, and use those funds to fast-forward the construction of biofuel production facilities. Eventually, that tax would melt away as biofuel production ramps up and becomes more competitive. On top of that, I think congress needs to mandate that all new vehicles be E85 or B80 compliant by model year 2010.


It seems like the only viable "bio-fuels" option that doesn't require farmland is Algae-Derived. It seems possible to grow in wasteland areas or on floating platforms at sea.

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